Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the Office of Naval Research's Arctic Research Activities in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas (Year 4), 54931-54940 [2021-21672]

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[FR Doc. 2021–21659 Filed 10–4–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DS–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB379] Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the Office of Naval Research’s Arctic Research Activities in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas (Year 4) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization. AGENCY: In accordance with the regulations implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given that NMFS has issued an IHA to the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) to incidentally harass, by Level B harassment only, marine mammals during oceanographic research activities associated with the Arctic Research Activities (Year 4) in the Beaufort and eastern Chukchi Seas. The Navy’s activities are considered military readiness activities pursuant to the MMPA, as amended by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 (NDAA). DATES: This Authorization is effective from October 5, 2021 through October 4, 2022. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kelsey Potlock, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 Electronic copies of the application and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in this document, may be obtained online at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/ incidental-take-authorization-officenaval-research-arctic-researchactivities-beaufort-1. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background The MMPA prohibits the ‘‘take’’ of marine mammals, with certain exceptions. Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce (as delegated to NMFS) to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed incidental take authorization may be provided to the public for review. Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses (where relevant). Further, NMFS must prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other ‘‘means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact’’ on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of the species or stocks for taking for certain subsistence uses (referred to in shorthand as ‘‘mitigation’’); and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring and reporting of the takings are set forth. The NDAA (Pub. L. 108–136) removed the ‘‘small numbers’’ and ‘‘specified geographical region’’ limitations indicated above and amended the definition of ‘‘harassment’’ as it applies to a ‘‘military readiness activity.’’ The activity for which incidental take of marine mammals is being requested addressed here qualifies as a military readiness activity. The definitions of all applicable MMPA statutory terms cited above are included in the relevant sections below. Summary of Request On June 4, 2021, NMFS received a request from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for an IHA to take PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 54931 marine mammals incidental to oceanographic research activities, known as Arctic Research Activities, in the Beaufort and eastern Chukchi Seas. The application was deemed adequate and complete on August 4, 2021. ONR’s request is for take of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas; two stocks) and ringed seals (Pusa hispida hispida) by Level B harassment only. Neither ONR nor NMFS expects serious injury or mortality to result from this activity and, therefore, an IHA is appropriate. This IHA will cover the fourth year of a larger project for which ONR obtained prior IHAs (83 FR 48799, September 27, 2018; 84 FR 50007, September 24, 2019; 85 FR 53333, August 28, 2020) and may request take authorization for subsequent facets of the overall project. This IHA will be valid for a period of one year, October 5, 2021 to October 4, 2022. The larger project involves several scientific objectives that support the Arctic and Global Prediction Program, as well as the Ocean Acoustic Program and the Naval Research Laboratory, for which ONR is the parent command. ONR has complied with all the requirements (e.g., mitigation, monitoring, and reporting) of the previous IHAs (83 FR 48799, September 27, 2018; 84 FR 50007, September 24, 2019; 85 FR 53333, August 28, 2020). Description of Activities Overview ONR’s Arctic Research Activities include scientific experiments to be conducted in support of the following programs: The Arctic and Global Prediction Program, the Ocean Acoustic Program, and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), for which ONR is the parent command. Specifically, the project includes the Arctic Mobile Observing System (AMOS), Ocean Acoustics field work, and NRL experiments in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Project activities involve acoustic testing during cruises (two planned) and a multi-frequency navigation system concept test using left-behind active acoustic sources. More specifically, these experiments involve the deployment of moored, drifting, and ice-tethered active acoustic sources as well as a towed source (see details in the proposed notice (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021) on the Shallow Water Integrate Mapping System) from the Research Vessel (R/V) Sikuliaq and another vessel, most likely the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) HEALY. Underwater sound from the acoustic sources may result in behavioral harassment of marine mammals. E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 05OCN1 54932 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 190 / Tuesday, October 5, 2021 / Notices A detailed description of the planned Arctic Research Activities is provided in the Federal Register notice of the proposed IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021). Since that time, no changes have been made to the project activities. Therefore, a detailed description is not provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for the description of the specified activities. Comments and Responses A notice of NMFS’s proposal to issue an IHA to ONR was published in the Federal Register on August 23, 2021 (86 FR 47065). That proposed notice described, in detail, ONR’s activities, the marine mammal species that may be affected by the activities and the anticipated effects on marine mammals. During this period, NMFS received two non-substantive public comments that did not present relevant information and did not change our determinations or any aspects of the IHA as described in the proposed Federal Register notice (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021). Changes From the Proposed IHA to Final IHA NMFS notes one correction to information provided in the notice of proposed IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021). The location of the activity was described in error as being potentially as close as 110 miles from Alaska. The correct distance is 110 nautical miles (nm; 204 km). Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of Specified Activities Sections 3 and 4 of the application summarize available information regarding status and trends, distribution and habitat preferences, and behavior and life history, of the potentially affected species. Additional information regarding population trends and threats may be found in NMFS’s Stock Assessment Reports (SARs; https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/marinemammal-stock-assessments) and more general information about these species (e.g., physical and behavioral descriptions) may be found on NMFS’s website (https://www.fisheries. noaa.gov/find-species). Table 1 lists all species or stocks for which take is expected and is authorized for this action, and summarizes information related to the population or stock, including regulatory status under the MMPA and Endangered Species Act (ESA) and potential biological removal (PBR), where known. For taxonomy, we follow Committee on Taxonomy (2021). PBR is defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population (as described in NMFS’s SARs). While no mortality is anticipated or authorized here, PBR and annual serious injury and mortality from anthropogenic sources are included here as gross indicators of the status of the species and other threats. Marine mammal abundance estimates presented in this document represent the total number of individuals that make up a given stock or the total number estimated within a particular study or survey area. NMFS’s stock abundance estimates for most species represent the total estimate of individuals within the geographic area, if known, that comprises that stock. For some species, this geographic area may extend beyond U.S. waters. All managed stocks in this region are assessed in NMFS’s 2020 Alaska SARs (Muto et al., 2021). All values presented in Table 1 are the most recent available at the time of publication and are available in the 2020 SARs (Muto et al., 2021) and available online at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/marinemammal-stock-assessments. TABLE 1—SPECIES EXPECTED TO OCCUR IN THE PROJECT AREA Common name Scientific name ESA/MMPA status; strategic (Y/ N) 1 Stock Stock abundance (CV, Nmin, most recent abundance survey) 2 Annual M/SI 3 PBR Order Cetartiodactyla—Cetacean—Superfamily Odontoceti (toothed whales, dolphins, and porpoises) Family Monodontidae Beluga whale ............. Beluga whale ............. Delphinapterus leucas. Delphinapterus leucas. Beaufort Sea 4 ......... -,-; N Eastern Chukchi ...... -,-; N 39,258 (0.229, N/A, 1992) 13,305 (0.51, 8,875, 2012) 4 UND 102 178 55 5,100 6,459 Order Carnivora—Superfamily Pinnipedia Family Phocidae (earless seals) Ringed seal 5 ............. Pusa hispida hispida Arctic ........................ T, D; Y 171,418 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 1 Endangered Species Act (ESA) status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species is not listed under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds PBR or which is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed under the ESA is automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock. 2 NMFS marine mammal stock assessment reports online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments. CV is coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of stock abundance. 3 These values, found in NMFS’s SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g., commercial fisheries, ship strike). Annual M/SI often cannot be determined precisely and is in some cases presented as a minimum value or range. A CV associated with estimated mortality due to commercial fisheries is presented in some cases. 4 The 2016 guidelines for preparing SARs state that abundance estimates older than 8 years should not be used to calculate PBR due to a decline in the reliability of an aged estimate. Therefore, the PBR for this stock is considered undetermined. 5 Abundance and associated values for ringed seals are for the U.S. population in the Bering Sea only. A detailed description of the species likely to be affected by the Arctic VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 Research Activities, including brief information regarding population trends PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 and threats, and information regarding local occurrence, were provided in the E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 05OCN1 54933 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 190 / Tuesday, October 5, 2021 / Notices Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021). Since that time, we are not aware of any changes in the status of these species and stocks; therefore, detailed descriptions are not provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for those descriptions. Please also refer to NMFS’s website (https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/find-species) for generalized species accounts. Marine Mammal Hearing Hearing is the most important sensory modality for marine mammals underwater, and exposure to anthropogenic sound can have deleterious effects. To appropriately assess the potential effects of exposure to sound, it is necessary to understand the frequency ranges marine mammals are able to hear. Current data indicate that not all marine mammal species have equal hearing capabilities (e.g., Richardson et al., 1995; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008). To reflect this, Southall et al. (2007) recommended that marine mammals be divided into functional hearing groups based on directly measured or estimated hearing ranges on the basis of available behavioral response data, audiograms derived using auditory evoked potential techniques, anatomical modeling, and other data. Note that no direct measurements of hearing ability have been successfully completed for mysticetes (i.e., low-frequency cetaceans). Subsequently, NMFS (2018) described generalized hearing ranges for these marine mammal hearing groups. Generalized hearing ranges were chosen based on the approximately 65 decibel (dB) threshold from the normalized composite audiograms, with the exception for lower limits for lowfrequency cetaceans where the lower bound was deemed to be biologically implausible and the lower bound from Southall et al. (2007) retained. Marine mammal hearing groups and their associated hearing ranges are provided in Table 2. TABLE 2—MARINE MAMMAL HEARING GROUPS (NMFS, 2018) Generalized hearing range * Hearing group Low-frequency (LF) cetaceans (baleen whales) ........................................................................................................... Mid-frequency (MF) cetaceans (dolphins, toothed whales, beaked whales, bottlenose whales) ................................. High-frequency (HF) cetaceans (true porpoises, Kogia, river dolphins, cephalorhynchid, Lagenorhynchus cruciger & L. australis). Phocid pinnipeds (PW) (underwater) (true seals) ......................................................................................................... Otariid pinnipeds (OW) (underwater) (sea lions and fur seals) .................................................................................... 7 Hz to 35 kHz. 150 Hz to 160 kHz. 275 Hz to 160 kHz. 50 Hz to 86 kHz. 60 Hz to 39 kHz. * Represents the generalized hearing range for the entire group as a composite (i.e., all species within the group), where individual species’ hearing ranges are typically not as broad. Generalized hearing range chosen based on ∼65 dB threshold from normalized composite audiogram, with the exception for lower limits for LF cetaceans (Southall et al. 2007) and PW pinniped (approximation). The pinniped functional hearing group was modified from Southall et al. (2007) on the basis of data indicating that phocid species have consistently demonstrated an extended frequency range of hearing compared to otariids, especially in the higher frequency range (Hemila¨ et al., 2006; Kastelein et al., 2009; Reichmuth and Holt, 2013). For more detail concerning these groups and associated frequency ranges, please see NMFS (2018) for a review of available information. Two marine mammal species (1 cetacean and 1 pinniped (1 phocid) species) have the reasonable potential to co-occur with the survey activities. Please refer to Table 1. Beluga whales are classified as mid-frequency cetaceans. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Potential Effects of Specified Activities on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat The effects of underwater noise from the deployed acoustic sources have the potential to result in behavioral harassment of marine mammals in the vicinity of the study area. The Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021) included a discussion of the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals and their habitat, therefore that information is not repeated here; please refer to the Federal Register VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 notice (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021) for that information. Estimated Take This section provides an estimate of the number of incidental takes authorized through this IHA, which will inform NMFS’ consideration of the negligible impact determination. Harassment is the only type of take expected to result from these activities. For this military readiness activity, the MMPA defines ‘‘harassment’’ as (i) Any act that injures or has the significant potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or (ii) Any act that disturbs or is likely to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, to a point where the behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly altered (Level B harassment). Authorized takes are by Level B harassment only, in the form of disruption of behavioral patterns for individual marine mammals resulting from exposure to acoustic transmissions. Based on the nature of the activity, Level A harassment is neither anticipated nor authorized. PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 As described previously, no mortality is anticipated or authorized for this activity. Below we describe how the take is estimated. Generally speaking, we estimate take by considering: (1) Acoustic thresholds above which NMFS believes the best available science indicates marine mammals will be behaviorally harassed or incur some degree of permanent hearing impairment; (2) the area or volume of water that will be ensonified above these levels in a day; (3) the density or occurrence of marine mammals within these ensonified areas; and, (4) and the number of days of activities. We note that while these basic factors can contribute to a basic calculation to provide an initial prediction of takes, additional information that can qualitatively inform take estimates is also sometimes available (e.g., previous monitoring results or average group size). For this IHA, ONR employed a sophisticated model known as the Navy Acoustic Effects Model (NAEMO) for assessing the impacts of underwater sound. Below, we describe the factors considered here in more detail and present the authorized take. Acoustic Thresholds Using the best available science, NMFS recommends the use of acoustic E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 05OCN1 54934 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 190 / Tuesday, October 5, 2021 / Notices lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 thresholds that identify the received level of underwater sound above which exposed marine mammals would be reasonably expected to be behaviorally harassed (equated to Level B harassment) or to incur PTS of some degree (equated to Level A harassment). Level B Harassment for non-explosive sources—Though significantly driven by received level, the onset of behavioral disturbance from anthropogenic noise exposure is also informed to varying degrees by other factors related to the source (e.g., frequency, predictability, duty cycle), the environment (e.g., bathymetry), and the receiving animals (e.g., hearing, motivation, experience, demography, behavioral context) and can be difficult to predict (Southall et al., 2007, Ellison et al., 2012). Based on what the available science indicates and the practical need to use a threshold based on a factor that is both predictable and measurable for most activities, NMFS typically uses a generalized acoustic threshold based on received level to estimate the onset of behavioral harassment. NMFS typical generalized acoustic thresholds are received levels of 120 dB of 1 microPascal (re 1 mPa; rms) for continuous (e.g., vibratory piledriving, drilling) and above 160 dB re 1 mPa (rms) for non-explosive impulsive (e.g., seismic airguns) or intermittent (e.g., scientific sonar) sources. In this case, NMFS has adopted the Navy’s approach to estimating incidental take by Level B harassment from the active acoustic sources for this action, which includes use of the dose response functions described below. The Navy’s dose response functions were developed to estimate take from sonar and similar transducers. Multiyear research efforts have conducted sonar exposure studies for odontocetes and mysticetes (Miller et al., 2012; Sivle et al., 2012). Several studies with captive animals have provided data under controlled circumstances for odontocetes and pinnipeds (Houser et al., 2013a; Houser et al., 2013b). Moretti et al., (2014) published a beaked whale dose-response curve based on passive acoustic monitoring of beaked whales during U.S. Navy training activity at Atlantic Underwater Test and Evaluation Center during actual AntiSubmarine Warfare exercises. This new information necessitated the update of VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 the behavioral response criteria for the U.S. Navy’s environmental analyses. Southall et al., (2007), and more recently Southall et al., (2019), synthesized data from many past behavioral studies and observations to determine the likelihood of behavioral reactions at specific sound levels. While in general, the louder the sound source the more intense the behavioral response, it was clear that the proximity of a sound source and the animal’s experience, motivation, and conditioning were also critical factors influencing the response (Southall et al., 2007; Southall et al., 2019). After examining all of the available data, the authors felt that the derivation of thresholds for behavioral response based solely on exposure level was not supported because context of the animal at the time of sound exposure was an important factor in estimating response. Nonetheless, in some conditions, consistent avoidance reactions were noted at higher sound levels depending on the marine mammal species or group allowing conclusions to be drawn. Phocid seals demonstrated avoidance reactions at or below 190 dB re 1 mPa at 1m; thus, seals may actually receive levels adequate to produce TTS before avoiding the source. Odontocete behavioral criteria for non-impulsive sources were updated based on controlled exposure studies for dolphins and sea mammals, sonar, and safety (3S) studies where odontocete behavioral responses were reported after exposure to sonar (Antunes et al., 2014; Houser et al., 2013b); Miller et al., 2011; Miller et al., 2014; Miller et al., 2012). For the 3S study, the sonar outputs included 1–2 kilohertz (kHz) up- and down-sweeps and 6–7 kHz up-sweeps; source levels were ramped up from 152– 158 dB re 1 mPa to a maximum of 198–214 re 1 mPa at 1 meter (m). Sonar signals were ramped up over several pings while the vessel approached the mammals. The study did include some control passes of ships with the sonar off to discern the behavioral responses of the mammals to vessel presence alone versus active sonar. The controlled exposure studies included exposing the Navy’s trained bottlenose dolphins to mid-frequency sonar while they were in a pen. Midfrequency sonar was played at 6 different exposure levels from 125–185 dB re 1 mPa (rms). The behavioral PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 response function for odontocetes resulting from the studies described above has a 50 percent probability of response at 157 dB re 1 mPa. Additionally, distance cutoffs (20 km for mid-frequency (MF) cetaceans) were applied to exclude exposures beyond which the potential of significant behavioral responses is considered to be unlikely. The pinniped behavioral threshold was updated based on controlled exposure experiments on the following captive animals: Hooded seal, gray seal (Halichoerus grypus), and California sea lion (Go¨tz et al., 2010; Houser et al., 2013a; Kvadsheim et al., 2010). Hooded seals were exposed to increasing levels of sonar until an avoidance response was observed, while the grey seals were exposed first to a single received level multiple times, then an increasing received level. Each individual California sea lion was exposed to the same received level ten times. These exposure sessions were combined into a single response value, with an overall response assumed if an animal responded in any single session. The resulting behavioral response function for pinnipeds has a 50 percent probability of response at 166 dB re 1 mPa. Additionally, distance cutoffs (10 km for pinnipeds) were applied to exclude exposures beyond which the potential of significant behavioral responses is considered to be unlikely. Level A harassment for non-explosive sources—NMFS’ Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing (Version 2.0) (Technical Guidance, 2018) identifies dual criteria to assess auditory injury (Level A harassment) to five different marine mammal groups (based on hearing sensitivity) as a result of exposure to noise from two different types of sources (impulsive or nonimpulsive). ONR’s activities involve only non-impulsive sources. These thresholds are provided in Table 3 below. The references, analysis, and methodology used in the development of the thresholds are described in NMFS 2018 Technical Guidance, which may be accessed at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/ national/marine-mammal-protection/ marine-mammal-acoustic-technicalguidance. E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 05OCN1 54935 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 190 / Tuesday, October 5, 2021 / Notices TABLE 3—THRESHOLDS IDENTIFYING THE ONSET OF PERMANENT THRESHOLD SHIFT PTS onset acoustic thresholds * (received level) Hearing group Impulsive Low-Frequency (LF) Cetaceans ...................................... Mid-Frequency (MF) Cetaceans ...................................... High-Frequency (HF) Cetaceans ..................................... Phocid Pinnipeds (PW) (Underwater) ............................. Otariid Pinnipeds (OW) (Underwater) ............................. Cell Cell Cell Cell Cell 1: 3: 5: 7: 9: Lpk,flat: Lpk,flat: Lpk,flat: Lpk,flat: Lpk,flat: 219 230 202 218 232 dB; dB; dB; dB; dB; Non-impulsive LE,LF,24h: 183 dB ......................... LE,MF,24h: 185 dB ........................ LE,HF,24h: 155 dB ........................ LE,PW,24h: 185 dB ....................... LE,OW,24h: 203 dB ....................... Cell Cell Cell Cell Cell 2: LE,LF,24h: 199 dB. 4: LE,MF,24h: 198 dB. 6: LE,HF,24h: 173 dB. 8: LE,PW,24h: 201 dB. 10: LE,OW,24h: 219 dB. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 * Dual metric acoustic thresholds for impulsive sounds: Use whichever results in the largest isopleth for calculating PTS onset. If a non-impulsive sound has the potential of exceeding the peak sound pressure level thresholds associated with impulsive sounds, these thresholds should also be considered. Note: Peak sound pressure (Lpk) has a reference value of 1 μPa, and cumulative sound exposure level (LE) has a reference value of 1μPa2s. In this Table, thresholds are abbreviated to reflect American National Standards Institute standards (ANSI 2013). However, peak sound pressure is defined by ANSI as incorporating frequency weighting, which is not the intent for this Technical Guidance. Hence, the subscript ‘‘flat’’ is being included to indicate peak sound pressure should be flat weighted or unweighted within the generalized hearing range. The subscript associated with cumulative sound exposure level thresholds indicates the designated marine mammal auditory weighting function (LF, MF, and HF cetaceans, and PW and OW pinnipeds) and that the recommended accumulation period is 24 hours. The cumulative sound exposure level thresholds could be exceeded in a multitude of ways (i.e., varying exposure levels and durations, duty cycle). When possible, it is valuable for action proponents to indicate the conditions under which these acoustic thresholds will be exceeded. Quantitative Modeling The Navy performed a quantitative analysis to estimate the number of marine mammals that could be exposed to underwater acoustic transmissions above the previously described threshold criteria during ONR’s action. Inputs to the quantitative analysis included marine mammal density estimates obtained from the Navy Marine Species Density Database, marine mammal depth occurrence distributions (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2017b), oceanographic and environmental data, marine mammal hearing data, and criteria and thresholds for levels of potential effects. The quantitative analysis consists of computer modeled estimates and a postmodel analysis to determine the number of potential animal exposures. The model calculates sound energy propagation from the non-impulsive acoustic sources, the sound received by animat (virtual animal) dosimeters representing marine mammals distributed in the area around the modeled activity, and whether the sound received by animats exceeds the thresholds for effects. The Navy developed a set of software tools and compiled data for estimating acoustic effects on marine mammals without consideration of behavioral avoidance or mitigation. These tools and data sets serve as integral components of NAEMO. In NAEMO, animats are distributed non-uniformly based on species-specific density, depth distribution, and group size information and animats record energy received at their location in the water column. A fully three-dimensional environment is used for calculating sound propagation and animat exposure in NAEMO. Sitespecific bathymetry, sound speed VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 profiles, wind speed, and bottom properties are incorporated into the propagation modeling process. NAEMO calculates the likely propagation for various levels of energy (sound or pressure) resulting from each source used during the training event. NAEMO then records the energy received by each animat within the energy footprint of the event and calculates the number of animats having received levels of energy exposures that fall within defined impact thresholds. Predicted effects on the animats within a scenario are then tallied and the highest order effect (based on severity of criteria; e.g., PTS over TTS) predicted for a given animat is assumed. Each scenario, or each 24-hour period for scenarios lasting greater than 24 hours is independent of all others, and therefore, the same individual marine mammal (as represented by an animat in the model environment) could be impacted during each independent scenario or 24-hour period. In few instances, although the activities themselves all occur within the study location, sound may propagate beyond the boundary of the study area. Any exposures occurring outside the boundary of the study area are counted as if they occurred within the study area boundary. NAEMO provides the initial estimated impacts on marine species with a static horizontal distribution (i.e., animats in the model environment do not move horizontally). There are limitations to the data used in the acoustic effects model, and the results must be interpreted within this context. While the best available data and appropriate input assumptions have been used in the modeling, when there is a lack of definitive data to support an aspect of the modeling, conservative PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 modeling assumptions have been chosen (i.e., assumptions that may result in an overestimate of acoustic exposures): • Animats are modeled as being underwater, stationary, and facing the source and therefore always predicted to receive the maximum potential sound level at a given location (i.e., no porpoising or pinnipeds’ heads above water); • Animats do not move horizontally (but change their position vertically within the water column), which may overestimate physiological effects such as hearing loss, especially for slow moving or stationary sound sources in the model; • Animats are stationary horizontally and therefore do not avoid the sound source, unlike in the wild where animals would most often avoid exposures at higher sound levels, especially those exposures that may result in PTS; • Multiple exposures within any 24hour period are considered one continuous exposure for the purposes of calculating potential threshold shift, because there are not sufficient data to estimate a hearing recovery function for the time between exposures; and • Mitigation measures were not considered in the model. In reality, sound-producing activities would be reduced, stopped, or delayed if marine mammals are detected by visual monitoring. Because of these inherent model limitations and simplifications, modelestimated results should be further analyzed, considering such factors as the range to specific effects, avoidance, and the likelihood of successfully implementing mitigation measures. This analysis uses a number of factors in addition to the acoustic model results to E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 05OCN1 54936 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 190 / Tuesday, October 5, 2021 / Notices absorption, bottom loss, and surface loss. Platforms such as a ship using one or more sound sources are modeled in accordance with relevant vehicle dynamics and time durations by moving them across an area whose size is representative of the testing event’s operational area. Table 4 provides range to effects for noise produced through use of the predict acoustic effects on marine mammals. For the other non-impulsive sources, NAEMO calculates the SPL and SEL for each active emission during an event. This is done by taking the following factors into account over the propagation paths: Bathymetric relief and bottom types, sound speed, and attenuation contributors such as acoustic sources to mid-frequency cetacean and pinniped-specific criteria. Range to effects is important information in predicting non-impulsive acoustic impacts. Therefore, the ranges in Table 4 provide realistic maximum distances over which the specific effects from the use of non-impulsive sources during ONR’s action will be possible. TABLE 4—RANGE TO PTS, TTS, AND BEHAVIORAL EFFECTS IN THE PROJECT AREA BASED ON CUTOFF DISTANCES FOR NON-IMPULSIVE ACOUSTIC SOURCES Range to behavioral effects (meters) Source type MF cetacean sources b On-site drifting .......................... Fixed sources ........................................... Range to TTS effects (meters) c Pinniped MF cetacean a 10,000 a 10,000 a 20,000 a 5,000 Range to PTS effects (meters) c Pinniped 0 0 MF cetacean 0 0 Pinniped 0 0 0 0 a Cutoff distance applied (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2017a). under the assumption that some of the on-site drifting sources would become closer together. effect (and therefore, no distance from source) is anticipated based on the NAEMO modeling. b Assessed c No A behavioral response study conducted on and around the Navy range in Southern California (SOCAL BRS) observed reactions to sonar and similar sound sources by several marine mammal species, including Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus), a midfrequency cetacean (DeRuiter et al., 2013; Goldbogen et al., 2013; Southall et al., 2011; Southall et al., 2012; Southall et al., 2013). In a preliminary analysis, none of the Risso’s dolphins exposed to simulated or real mid-frequency sonar demonstrated any overt or obvious responses (Southall et al., 2012, Southall et al., 2013). In general, although the responses to the simulated sonar were varied across individuals and species, none of the animals exposed to real Navy sonar responded; these exposures occurred at distances beyond 10 km, and were up to 100 km away (DeRuiter et al., 2013). These data suggest that most odontocetes (not including beaked whales (Family Ziphiidae) and harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena)) likely do not exhibit significant behavioral reactions to sonar and other transducers beyond approximately 10 km. Therefore, the Navy uses a cutoff distance for odontocetes of 10 km for moderate source level, single platform training, and testing events, and 20 km for all other events, including ONR’s action (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2017a). NMFS has adopted this approach in support of this final IHA. Southall et al., (2007) reported that pinnipeds do not exhibit strong reactions to SPLs up to 140 dB re 1 mPa from non-impulsive sources. While there are limited data on pinniped behavioral responses beyond about 3 km in the water, the Navy used a distance cutoff of 2.7 nm (5 km) for moderate source level, single platform training and testing events, and 5.4 nm (10 km) for all other events, including the Arctic Research Activities (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2017a). Regardless of the received level at the cutoff distances described above, take is not estimated to occur beyond 10 and 20 km from the source for pinnipeds and cetaceans, respectively. No instances of PTS were modeled for any species or stock; as such, no take by Level A harassment is anticipated or is authorized. Further information on cutoff distances can be found in Section 6.5.1 in ONR’s 2021–2022 IHA application on NMFS’ website: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/incidentaltake-authorizations-military-readinessactivities. The marine mammal density numbers utilized for quantitative modeling are from the Navy Marine Species Density Database (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2014). Density estimates are based on habitat-based modeling by Kaschner et al., (2006) and Kaschner (2004). While density estimates for the two stocks of beluga whales are equal (Kaschner et al., 2006; Kaschner 2004), take has been apportioned to each stock proportional to the abundance of each stock. Table 5 shows the exposures expected for the beluga whale and ringed seal based on NAEMO modeled results. TABLE 5—QUANTITATIVE MODELING RESULTS OF POTENTIAL EXPOSURES Density (animals/km2) Species Level B harassment (behavioral) Level B harassment (TTS) Total take Percentage of stock taken 1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Cetacean (odontocete) Beluga Whale (Beaufort Sea stock) 1 .................................. Beluga Whale (Chukchi Sea stock) 1 ................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 PO 00000 0.0087 ........................ Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 375 125 E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 0 0 05OCN1 375 125 0.96 0.94 54937 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 190 / Tuesday, October 5, 2021 / Notices TABLE 5—QUANTITATIVE MODELING RESULTS OF POTENTIAL EXPOSURES—Continued Density (animals/km2) Species Level B harassment (behavioral) Level B harassment (TTS) Total take Percentage of stock taken 1 Pinniped (phocid) Ringed Seal ......................................................................... 0.3958 6,050 0 6,050 3.53 1 Acoustic exposures to beluga whales were not modeled at the stock level. Take of beluga whales in each stock was based on the proportion of each stock in relation to the total number of beluga whales. Therefore, 75 percent of the calculated take was apportioned to the Beaufort Sea stock, and 25 percent of the calculated take was apportioned to the Eastern Chukchi Sea stock. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Mitigation In order to issue an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to the activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on the species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of the species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses. NMFS regulations require applicants for incidental take authorizations to include information about the availability and feasibility (economic and technological) of equipment, methods, and manner of conducting the activity or other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact upon the affected species or stocks and their habitat (50 CFR 216.104(a)(11)). The NDAA for FY 2004 amended the MMPA as it relates to military readiness activities and the incidental take authorization process such that ‘‘least practicable impact’’ shall include consideration of personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the military readiness activity. In evaluating how mitigation may or may not be appropriate to ensure the least practicable adverse impact on species or stocks and their habitat, as well as subsistence uses where applicable, we carefully consider two primary factors: (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the measure(s) is expected to reduce impacts to marine mammals, marine mammal species or stocks, and their habitat, as well as subsistence uses. This considers the nature of the potential adverse impact being mitigated (likelihood, scope, range). It further considers the likelihood that the measure will be effective if implemented (probability of accomplishing the mitigating result if implemented as planned), the likelihood of effective implementation (probability implemented as planned), and; VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 (2) The practicability of the measures for applicant implementation, which may consider such things as cost, impact on operations, and, in the case of a military readiness activity, personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the military readiness activity. Mitigation for Marine Mammals and Their Habitat Ships operated by or for the Navy have personnel assigned to stand watch at all times, day and night, when moving through the water. While in transit, ships must use extreme caution and proceed at a safe speed (1–3 knots in ice; <10 knots in open ice-free waters) such that the ship can take proper and effective action to avoid a collision with any marine mammal and can be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions. While underway, the ships (including non-Navy ships operating on behalf of the Navy) utilizing active acoustics and towed in-water devices will have at least one watch person during activities. While underway, watch personnel must be alert at all times and have access to binoculars. During mooring or UUV deployment, visual observation will start 15 minutes prior to and continue throughout the deployment within an exclusion zone of 180 feet (ft; 55 m, roughly one ship length) around the deployed mooring. Deployment will stop if a marine mammal is visually detected within the exclusion zone. Deployment will recommence if any one of the following conditions are met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the exclusion zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the exclusion zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the exclusion zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 15 minutes for pinnipeds and 30 minutes for cetaceans. Ships will avoid approaching marine mammals head-on and will maneuver to maintain an exclusion zone of 500 yards (yd; 457 m) around observed whales, and 200 ft (183 m) around all other PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 marine mammals, provided it is safe to do so in ice-free waters. All personnel conducting on-ice experiments, as well as all aircraft operating in the study area, are required to maintain a separation distance of 1,000 ft (305 m) from any observed marine mammal. These requirements do not apply if a vessel’s safety is at risk, such as when a change of course would create an imminent and serious threat to safety, person, vessel, or aircraft, and to the extent that vessels are restricted in their ability to maneuver. No further action is necessary if a marine mammal other than a whale continues to approach the vessel after there has already been one maneuver and/or speed change to avoid the animal. Avoidance measures should continue for any observed whale in order to maintain an exclusion zone of 500 yd (457 m). Based on our evaluation of the Navy’s measures, NMFS has determined that the mitigation measures provide the means effecting the least practicable impact on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for subsistence uses. Monitoring and Reporting In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking. The MMPA implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for authorizations must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the action area. Effective reporting is critical, both to compliance as well as to ensure that the most value is obtained from the required monitoring. Monitoring and reporting requirements prescribed by NMFS E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 05OCN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 54938 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 190 / Tuesday, October 5, 2021 / Notices should contribute to improved understanding of one or more of the following: • Occurrence of marine mammal species or stocks in the area in which take is anticipated (e.g., presence, abundance, distribution, density). • Nature, scope, or context of likely marine mammal exposure to potential stressors/impacts (individual or cumulative, acute or chronic), through better understanding of: (1) Action or environment (e.g., source characterization, propagation, ambient noise); (2) affected species (e.g., life history, dive patterns); (3) co-occurrence of marine mammal species with the action; or (4) biological or behavioral context of exposure (e.g., age, calving or feeding areas). • Individual marine mammal responses (behavioral or physiological) to acoustic stressors (acute, chronic, or cumulative), other stressors, or cumulative impacts from multiple stressors. • How anticipated responses to stressors impact either: (1) Long-term fitness and survival of individual marine mammals; or (2) populations, species, or stocks. • Effects on marine mammal habitat (e.g., marine mammal prey species, acoustic habitat, or other important physical components of marine mammal habitat). • Mitigation and monitoring effectiveness. While underway, the ships (including non-Navy ships operating on behalf of the Navy) utilizing active acoustics will have at least one watch person during activities. Watch personnel undertake extensive training in accordance with the U.S. Navy Lookout Training Handbook or civilian equivalent, including on the job instruction and a formal Personal Qualification Standard program (or equivalent program for supporting contractors or civilians), to certify that they have demonstrated all necessary skills (such as detection and reporting of floating or partially submerged objects). Additionally, watch personnel have taken the Navy’s Marine Species Awareness Training. Their duties may be performed in conjunction with other job responsibilities, such as navigating the ship or supervising other personnel. While on watch, personnel employ visual search techniques, including the use of binoculars, using a scanning method in accordance with the U.S. Navy Lookout Training Handbook or civilian equivalent. A primary duty of watch personnel is to detect and report all objects and disturbances sighted in the water that may be indicative of a threat to the ship and its crew, such as VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 debris, or surface disturbance. Per safety requirements, watch personnel also report any marine mammals sighted that have the potential to be in the direct path of the ship as a standard collision avoidance procedure. The U.S. Navy has coordinated with NMFS to develop an overarching program plan in which specific monitoring will occur. This plan is called the Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Program (ICMP) (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2011). The ICMP has been developed in direct response to Navy permitting requirements established through various environmental compliance efforts. As a framework document, the ICMP applies by regulation to those activities on ranges and operating areas for which the Navy is seeking or has sought incidental take authorizations. The ICMP is intended to coordinate monitoring efforts across all regions and to allocate the most appropriate level and type of effort based on a set of standardized research goals, and in acknowledgement of regional scientific value and resource availability. The ICMP is focused on Navy training and testing ranges where the majority of Navy activities occur regularly as those areas have the greatest potential for being impacted. ONR’s Arctic Research Activities in comparison is a less intensive test with little human activity present in the Arctic. Human presence is limited to a minimal amount of days for source operations and source deployments, in contrast to the large majority (greater than 95 percent) of time that the sources will be left behind and operate autonomously. Therefore, a dedicated monitoring project is not warranted. However, ONR will record all observations of marine mammals, including the marine mammal’s location (latitude and longitude), behavior, and distance from project activities. The Navy is committed to documenting and reporting relevant aspects of research and testing activities to verify implementation of mitigation, comply with permits, and improve future environmental assessments. If any injury or death of a marine mammal is observed during the 2021–2022 Arctic Research Activities, the Navy will immediately halt the activity and report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Alaska Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The following information must be provided: • Time, date, and location of the discovery; • Species identification (if known) or description of the animal(s) involved; PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 • Condition of the animal(s) (including carcass condition if the animal is dead); • Observed behaviors of the animal(s), if alive; • If available, photographs or video footage of the animal(s); and • General circumstances under which the animal(s) was discovered (e.g., deployment of moored or drifting sources, during on-ice experiments, or by transiting vessel). ONR will provide NMFS with a draft exercise monitoring report within 90 days of the conclusion of the activity. The draft exercise monitoring report will include data regarding acoustic source use and any mammal sightings or detection will be documented. The report will include the estimated number of marine mammals taken during the activity. The report will also include information on the number of shutdowns recorded. If no comments are received from NMFS within 30 days of submission of the draft final report, the draft final report will constitute the final report. If comments are received, a final report must be submitted within 30 days after receipt of comments. Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination NMFS has defined negligible impact as an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (50 CFR 216.103). A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., populationlevel effects). An estimate of the number of takes alone is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be ‘‘taken’’ through harassment, NMFS considers other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context of any responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, migration), as well as effects on habitat, and the likely effectiveness of the mitigation. We also assess the number, intensity, and context of estimated takes by evaluating this information relative to population status. Consistent with the 1989 preamble for NMFS’s implementing regulations (54 FR 40338; September 29, 1989), the impacts from other past and ongoing anthropogenic activities are incorporated into this analysis via their impacts on the environmental baseline (e.g., as reflected in the regulatory status E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 05OCN1 lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 190 / Tuesday, October 5, 2021 / Notices of the species, population size and growth rate where known, ongoing sources of human-caused mortality, or ambient noise levels). Underwater acoustic transmissions associated with the Arctic Research Activities, as outlined previously, have the potential to result in Level B harassment of beluga seals and ringed seals in the form of behavioral disturbances. No serious injury, mortality, or Level A harassment are anticipated to result from these described activities. Effects on individuals that are taken by Level B harassment could include alteration of dive behavior, alteration of foraging behavior, effects to breathing rates, interference with or alteration of vocalization, avoidance, and flight. More severe behavioral responses are not anticipated due to the localized, intermittent use of active acoustic sources. Most likely, individuals will simply be temporarily displaced by moving away from the acoustic source. As described previously in the behavioral effects section, seals exposed to non-impulsive sources with a received sound pressure level within the range of calculated exposures (142– 193 dB re 1 mPa), have been shown to change their behavior by modifying diving activity and avoidance of the sound source (Go¨tz et al., 2010; Kvadsheim et al., 2010). Although a minor change to a behavior may occur as a result of exposure to the sound sources associated with ONR’s action, these changes will be within the normal range of behaviors for the animal (e.g., the use of a breathing hole further from the source, rather than one closer to the source, will be within the normal range of behavior). Thus, even repeated Level B harassment of some small subset of the overall stock is unlikely to result in any significant realized decrease in fitness for the affected individuals, and will not result in any adverse impact to the stock as a whole. The project is not expected to have significant adverse effects on marine mammal habitat. While the activities may cause some fish to leave the area of disturbance, temporarily impacting marine mammals’ foraging opportunities, this will encompass a relatively small area of habitat leaving large areas of existing fish and marine mammal foraging habitat unaffected. As such, the impacts to marine mammal habitat are not expected to cause significant or long-term negative consequences In summary and as described above, the following factors primarily support our determination that the impacts resulting from this activity are not VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 expected to adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival: • No injury, serious injury, or mortality is anticipated or authorized; • Impacts will be limited to Level B harassment only; • TTS is not expected or predicted to occur; only temporary behavioral modifications are expected to result from these activities; and • There will be no permanent or significant loss or modification of marine mammal prey or habitat. Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the monitoring and mitigation measures, NMFS finds that the total marine mammal take from these activities will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal species or stocks. Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Determination Impacts to subsistence uses of marine mammals resulting from the planned action are not anticipated (as described in greater detail in the proposed notice of the IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021)). The closest active acoustic source (fixed or drifting) within the project site that is likely to cause Level B harassment take is approximately 110 nm (204 km) from land and outside of known subsistence use areas. However, almost all leave-behind sources that will constitute most of the Level B harassment take will be approximately 240 mi (386 km) from shore. In comparison with IHAs issued to ONR for their previous Arctic Research Activities, this project is further north; therefore, there is no spatial overlap between known subsistence harvest sites and the activities contained herein. Furthermore, and as stated above, the range to effects for non-impulsive acoustic sources in this experiment is much smaller than the distance from shore, with acoustic sources that could constitute take being located far away from known subsistence hunting areas. Lastly, the action will not remove individuals from the population. Based on this information, NMFS has determined that there will be no unmitigable adverse impact on subsistence uses from ONR’s planned activities. Endangered Species Act Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires that each Federal agency insure that any action it authorizes, funds, or carries out is not likely to PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 54939 jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat. To ensure ESA compliance for the issuance of IHAs, NMFS consults internally, in this case with the NMFS Alaska Regional Office (AKR), whenever we propose to authorize take for endangered or threatened species. The AKR issued a Biological Opinion on September 29, 2021, which concluded that ONR’s Arctic Research Activities and NMFS’s issuance of an IHA for those activities are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Arctic ringed seal or adversely modify any designated critical habitat. National Environmental Policy Act In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), as implemented by the regulations published by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ; 40 CFR parts 1500–1508), ONR prepared an Supplemental Overseas Environmental Assessment (SOEA) to consider the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects to the human environment resulting from the Arctic Research Activities. NMFS made ONR’s SOEA available to the public for review and comment, concurrently with the publication of the proposed IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021), on the NMFS website (https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/ incidental-take-authorization-officenaval-research-arctic-researchactivities-beaufort-1), in relation to its suitability for adoption by NMFS in order to assess the impacts to the human environment of issuance of an IHA to ONR. In addition, in compliance with NEPA and the CEQ regulations, as well as NOAA Administrative Order 216–6, NMFS has reviewed ONR’s SOEA and determined it to be sufficient. NMFS has subsequently adopted that EA (SOEA) and signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on September 23, 2021. Authorization As a result of these determinations, NMFS has issued an IHA to ONR for conducting oceanographic research activities in the Beaufort and eastern Chukchi Seas from October 5, 2021 through October 4, 2022, provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 05OCN1 54940 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 190 / Tuesday, October 5, 2021 / Notices Dated: September 30, 2021. Kimberly Damon-Randall, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of one scientific research permit. [FR Doc. 2021–21672 Filed 10–4–21; 8:45 am] Notice is hereby given that NMFS has issued a scientific research permit (Permit 19571–2R) to the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The research is intended to increase knowledge of black abalone listed under the ESA and to help guide management, conservation, and recovery efforts. ADDRESSES: The permit and related documents are available for review upon written request via email to nmfs.wcr-apps@noaa.gov (please SUMMARY: BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB459] Endangered and Threatened Species; Take of Anadromous Fish National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and AGENCY: include the permit number in the subject line of the email). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Susan Wang, Long Beach, California, phone: 562–980–4199, email: Susan.Wang@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Notice was published in the Federal Register on February 16, 2021, that a request for a permit renewal had been submitted by NMFS’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. To locate the Federal Register notice that announced our receipt of the application and a complete description of the research, go to www.federalregister.gov and search on the permit number and Federal Register notice information provided in the table below. TABLE 1—ISSUED PERMITS RTID Applicant 19571–2R ....... 0648–XA872 .. NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center—8901 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037 (Responsible Party: Kristen Koch). In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), a final determination has been made that the activities proposed are categorically excluded from the requirement to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. Authority Scientific research permits are issued in accordance with section 10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and regulations governing listed fish and wildlife permits (50 CFR parts 222–226). NMFS issues permits based on finding that such permits: (1) Are applied for in good faith; (2) if granted and exercised, would not operate to the disadvantage of the listed species that are the subject of the permit; and (3) are consistent with the purposes and policy of section 2 of the ESA. The authority to take listed species is subject to conditions set forth in the permits. lotter on DSK11XQN23PROD with NOTICES1 Previous Federal Register notice Permit No. Dated: September 30, 2021. Angela Somma, Chief, Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2021–21714 Filed 10–4–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:56 Oct 04, 2021 Jkt 256001 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB460] Marine Mammals; File No. 25794 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; receipt of application. AGENCY: Notice is hereby given that Jennifer Burns, Ph.D., Texas Tech University, Biology Department, 2901 Main Street Lubbock, TX 79409–3131 has applied in due form for a permit to import and export specimens of gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) for scientific research. DATES: Written, telefaxed, or email comments must be received on or before November 4, 2021. ADDRESSES: The application and related documents are available for review by selecting ‘‘Records Open for Public Comment’’ from the ‘‘Features’’ box on the Applications and Permits for Protected Species (APPS) home page, https://apps.nmfs.noaa.gov, and then selecting File No. 25794 from the list of available applications. These documents are also available upon written request via email to NMFS.Pr1Comments@ noaa.gov. Written comments on this application should be submitted via email to SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 86 FR 9489; February 16, 2021. Issuance date September 16, 2021. NMFS.Pr1Comments@noaa.gov. Please include File No. 25794 in the subject line of the email comment. Those individuals requesting a public hearing should submit a written request via email to NMFS.Pr1Comments@ noaa.gov. The request should set forth the specific reasons why a hearing on this application would be appropriate. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jennifer Skidmore or Sara Young, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The subject permit is requested under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) and the regulations governing the taking and importing of marine mammals (50 CFR part 216). The applicant proposes to import and export of parts collected from gray seals at Sable Island, Nova Scotia for the purpose of studying the role of maternal iron transfer in the development of heme stores and aerobic diving capacity in gray seal pups. Samples will be imported and exported from up to 35 males, 51 females and 16 pups (of either sex) per year. In addition, the applicant is proposing to opportunistically import and export of samples from 100 gray seals from Canada DFO archives and organs opportunistically salvaged from up to 20 deceased gray seals in Canada. Samples would include blood, milk, whiskers, nails, fur, blubber, muscle, scat, spew, saliva, and urine. Samples E:\FR\FM\05OCN1.SGM 05OCN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 86, Number 190 (Tuesday, October 5, 2021)]
[Notices]
[Pages 54931-54940]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2021-21672]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[RTID 0648-XB379]


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the Office of Naval Research's 
Arctic Research Activities in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas (Year 4)

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization.

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SUMMARY: In accordance with the regulations implementing the Marine 
Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) as amended, notification is hereby given 
that NMFS has issued an IHA to the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research 
(ONR) to incidentally harass, by Level B harassment only, marine 
mammals during oceanographic research activities associated with the 
Arctic Research Activities (Year 4) in the Beaufort and eastern Chukchi 
Seas. The Navy's activities are considered military readiness 
activities pursuant to the MMPA, as amended by the National Defense 
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 (NDAA).

DATES: This Authorization is effective from October 5, 2021 through 
October 4, 2022.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kelsey Potlock, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401. Electronic copies of the application 
and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in 
this document, may be obtained online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/incidental-take-authorization-office-naval-research-arctic-research-activities-beaufort-1. In case of 
problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed 
above.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The MMPA prohibits the ``take'' of marine mammals, with certain 
exceptions. Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 
et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce (as delegated to NMFS) to 
allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of 
small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a 
specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified 
geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations 
are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a 
proposed incidental take authorization may be provided to the public 
for review.
    Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds 
that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses 
(where relevant). Further, NMFS must prescribe the permissible methods 
of taking and other ``means of effecting the least practicable adverse 
impact'' on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying 
particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar 
significance, and on the availability of the species or stocks for 
taking for certain subsistence uses (referred to in shorthand as 
``mitigation''); and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, 
monitoring and reporting of the takings are set forth.
    The NDAA (Pub. L. 108-136) removed the ``small numbers'' and 
``specified geographical region'' limitations indicated above and 
amended the definition of ``harassment'' as it applies to a ``military 
readiness activity.'' The activity for which incidental take of marine 
mammals is being requested addressed here qualifies as a military 
readiness activity. The definitions of all applicable MMPA statutory 
terms cited above are included in the relevant sections below.

Summary of Request

    On June 4, 2021, NMFS received a request from the Office of Naval 
Research (ONR) for an IHA to take marine mammals incidental to 
oceanographic research activities, known as Arctic Research Activities, 
in the Beaufort and eastern Chukchi Seas. The application was deemed 
adequate and complete on August 4, 2021. ONR's request is for take of 
beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas; two stocks) and ringed seals 
(Pusa hispida hispida) by Level B harassment only. Neither ONR nor NMFS 
expects serious injury or mortality to result from this activity and, 
therefore, an IHA is appropriate.
    This IHA will cover the fourth year of a larger project for which 
ONR obtained prior IHAs (83 FR 48799, September 27, 2018; 84 FR 50007, 
September 24, 2019; 85 FR 53333, August 28, 2020) and may request take 
authorization for subsequent facets of the overall project. This IHA 
will be valid for a period of one year, October 5, 2021 to October 4, 
2022. The larger project involves several scientific objectives that 
support the Arctic and Global Prediction Program, as well as the Ocean 
Acoustic Program and the Naval Research Laboratory, for which ONR is 
the parent command. ONR has complied with all the requirements (e.g., 
mitigation, monitoring, and reporting) of the previous IHAs (83 FR 
48799, September 27, 2018; 84 FR 50007, September 24, 2019; 85 FR 
53333, August 28, 2020).

Description of Activities

Overview

    ONR's Arctic Research Activities include scientific experiments to 
be conducted in support of the following programs: The Arctic and 
Global Prediction Program, the Ocean Acoustic Program, and the Naval 
Research Laboratory (NRL), for which ONR is the parent command. 
Specifically, the project includes the Arctic Mobile Observing System 
(AMOS), Ocean Acoustics field work, and NRL experiments in the Beaufort 
and Chukchi Seas. Project activities involve acoustic testing during 
cruises (two planned) and a multi-frequency navigation system concept 
test using left-behind active acoustic sources. More specifically, 
these experiments involve the deployment of moored, drifting, and ice-
tethered active acoustic sources as well as a towed source (see details 
in the proposed notice (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021) on the Shallow 
Water Integrate Mapping System) from the Research Vessel (R/V) Sikuliaq 
and another vessel, most likely the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) 
HEALY. Underwater sound from the acoustic sources may result in 
behavioral harassment of marine mammals.

[[Page 54932]]

    A detailed description of the planned Arctic Research Activities is 
provided in the Federal Register notice of the proposed IHA (86 FR 
47065; August 23, 2021). Since that time, no changes have been made to 
the project activities. Therefore, a detailed description is not 
provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for the 
description of the specified activities.

Comments and Responses

    A notice of NMFS's proposal to issue an IHA to ONR was published in 
the Federal Register on August 23, 2021 (86 FR 47065). That proposed 
notice described, in detail, ONR's activities, the marine mammal 
species that may be affected by the activities and the anticipated 
effects on marine mammals. During this period, NMFS received two non-
substantive public comments that did not present relevant information 
and did not change our determinations or any aspects of the IHA as 
described in the proposed Federal Register notice (86 FR 47065; August 
23, 2021).

Changes From the Proposed IHA to Final IHA

    NMFS notes one correction to information provided in the notice of 
proposed IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021). The location of the 
activity was described in error as being potentially as close as 110 
miles from Alaska. The correct distance is 110 nautical miles (nm; 204 
km).

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of Specified Activities

    Sections 3 and 4 of the application summarize available information 
regarding status and trends, distribution and habitat preferences, and 
behavior and life history, of the potentially affected species. 
Additional information regarding population trends and threats may be 
found in NMFS's Stock Assessment Reports (SARs; https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments) and more general information about these species 
(e.g., physical and behavioral descriptions) may be found on NMFS's 
website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/find-species).
    Table 1 lists all species or stocks for which take is expected and 
is authorized for this action, and summarizes information related to 
the population or stock, including regulatory status under the MMPA and 
Endangered Species Act (ESA) and potential biological removal (PBR), 
where known. For taxonomy, we follow Committee on Taxonomy (2021). PBR 
is defined by the MMPA as the maximum number of animals, not including 
natural mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock 
while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable 
population (as described in NMFS's SARs). While no mortality is 
anticipated or authorized here, PBR and annual serious injury and 
mortality from anthropogenic sources are included here as gross 
indicators of the status of the species and other threats.
    Marine mammal abundance estimates presented in this document 
represent the total number of individuals that make up a given stock or 
the total number estimated within a particular study or survey area. 
NMFS's stock abundance estimates for most species represent the total 
estimate of individuals within the geographic area, if known, that 
comprises that stock. For some species, this geographic area may extend 
beyond U.S. waters. All managed stocks in this region are assessed in 
NMFS's 2020 Alaska SARs (Muto et al., 2021). All values presented in 
Table 1 are the most recent available at the time of publication and 
are available in the 2020 SARs (Muto et al., 2021) and available online 
at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments.

                                                 Table 1--Species Expected To Occur in the Project Area
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                    Stock abundance (CV,
                                                                               ESA/MMPA status;       Nmin, most recent                     Annual M/SI
           Common name              Scientific name           Stock           strategic (Y/N) \1\     abundance survey)         PBR             \3\
                                                                                                             \2\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                            Order Cetartiodactyla--Cetacean--Superfamily Odontoceti (toothed whales, dolphins, and porpoises)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                   Family Monodontidae
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Beluga whale....................  Delphinapterus       Beaufort Sea \4\...  -,-; N                  39,258 (0.229, N/A,          \4\ UND             102
                                   leucas.                                                           1992)
Beluga whale....................  Delphinapterus       Eastern Chukchi....  -,-; N                  13,305 (0.51, 8,875,             178              55
                                   leucas.                                                           2012)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                         Order Carnivora--Superfamily Pinnipedia
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                             Family Phocidae (earless seals)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ringed seal \5\.................  Pusa hispida         Arctic.............  T, D; Y                 171,418                        5,100           6,459
                                   hispida.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Endangered Species Act (ESA) status: Endangered (E), Threatened (T)/MMPA status: Depleted (D). A dash (-) indicates that the species is not listed
  under the ESA or designated as depleted under the MMPA. Under the MMPA, a strategic stock is one for which the level of direct human-caused mortality
  exceeds PBR or which is determined to be declining and likely to be listed under the ESA within the foreseeable future. Any species or stock listed
  under the ESA is automatically designated under the MMPA as depleted and as a strategic stock.
\2\ NMFS marine mammal stock assessment reports online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-stock-assessments assessments. CV is coefficient of variation; Nmin is the minimum estimate of stock abundance.
\3\ These values, found in NMFS's SARs, represent annual levels of human-caused mortality plus serious injury from all sources combined (e.g.,
  commercial fisheries, ship strike). Annual M/SI often cannot be determined precisely and is in some cases presented as a minimum value or range. A CV
  associated with estimated mortality due to commercial fisheries is presented in some cases.
\4\ The 2016 guidelines for preparing SARs state that abundance estimates older than 8 years should not be used to calculate PBR due to a decline in the
  reliability of an aged estimate. Therefore, the PBR for this stock is considered undetermined.
\5\ Abundance and associated values for ringed seals are for the U.S. population in the Bering Sea only.

    A detailed description of the species likely to be affected by the 
Arctic Research Activities, including brief information regarding 
population trends and threats, and information regarding local 
occurrence, were provided in the

[[Page 54933]]

Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 
2021). Since that time, we are not aware of any changes in the status 
of these species and stocks; therefore, detailed descriptions are not 
provided here. Please refer to that Federal Register notice for those 
descriptions. Please also refer to NMFS's website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/find-species) for generalized species accounts.

Marine Mammal Hearing

    Hearing is the most important sensory modality for marine mammals 
underwater, and exposure to anthropogenic sound can have deleterious 
effects. To appropriately assess the potential effects of exposure to 
sound, it is necessary to understand the frequency ranges marine 
mammals are able to hear. Current data indicate that not all marine 
mammal species have equal hearing capabilities (e.g., Richardson et 
al., 1995; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999; Au and Hastings, 2008). To reflect 
this, Southall et al. (2007) recommended that marine mammals be divided 
into functional hearing groups based on directly measured or estimated 
hearing ranges on the basis of available behavioral response data, 
audiograms derived using auditory evoked potential techniques, 
anatomical modeling, and other data. Note that no direct measurements 
of hearing ability have been successfully completed for mysticetes 
(i.e., low-frequency cetaceans). Subsequently, NMFS (2018) described 
generalized hearing ranges for these marine mammal hearing groups. 
Generalized hearing ranges were chosen based on the approximately 65 
decibel (dB) threshold from the normalized composite audiograms, with 
the exception for lower limits for low-frequency cetaceans where the 
lower bound was deemed to be biologically implausible and the lower 
bound from Southall et al. (2007) retained. Marine mammal hearing 
groups and their associated hearing ranges are provided in Table 2.

           Table 2--Marine Mammal Hearing Groups (NMFS, 2018)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                    Generalized hearing
                  Hearing group                           range *
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Low-frequency (LF) cetaceans (baleen whales)....  7 Hz to 35 kHz.
Mid-frequency (MF) cetaceans (dolphins, toothed   150 Hz to 160 kHz.
 whales, beaked whales, bottlenose whales).
High-frequency (HF) cetaceans (true porpoises,    275 Hz to 160 kHz.
 Kogia, river dolphins, cephalorhynchid,
 Lagenorhynchus cruciger & L. australis).
Phocid pinnipeds (PW) (underwater) (true seals).  50 Hz to 86 kHz.
Otariid pinnipeds (OW) (underwater) (sea lions    60 Hz to 39 kHz.
 and fur seals).
------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Represents the generalized hearing range for the entire group as a
  composite (i.e., all species within the group), where individual
  species' hearing ranges are typically not as broad. Generalized
  hearing range chosen based on ~65 dB threshold from normalized
  composite audiogram, with the exception for lower limits for LF
  cetaceans (Southall et al. 2007) and PW pinniped (approximation).

    The pinniped functional hearing group was modified from Southall et 
al. (2007) on the basis of data indicating that phocid species have 
consistently demonstrated an extended frequency range of hearing 
compared to otariids, especially in the higher frequency range 
(Hemil[auml] et al., 2006; Kastelein et al., 2009; Reichmuth and Holt, 
2013).
    For more detail concerning these groups and associated frequency 
ranges, please see NMFS (2018) for a review of available information. 
Two marine mammal species (1 cetacean and 1 pinniped (1 phocid) 
species) have the reasonable potential to co-occur with the survey 
activities. Please refer to Table 1. Beluga whales are classified as 
mid-frequency cetaceans.

Potential Effects of Specified Activities on Marine Mammals and Their 
Habitat

    The effects of underwater noise from the deployed acoustic sources 
have the potential to result in behavioral harassment of marine mammals 
in the vicinity of the study area. The Federal Register notice for the 
proposed IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021) included a discussion of 
the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals and their habitat, 
therefore that information is not repeated here; please refer to the 
Federal Register notice (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021) for that 
information.

Estimated Take

    This section provides an estimate of the number of incidental takes 
authorized through this IHA, which will inform NMFS' consideration of 
the negligible impact determination.
    Harassment is the only type of take expected to result from these 
activities. For this military readiness activity, the MMPA defines 
``harassment'' as (i) Any act that injures or has the significant 
potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild 
(Level A harassment); or (ii) Any act that disturbs or is likely to 
disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing 
disruption of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not limited 
to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, to 
a point where the behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly 
altered (Level B harassment).
    Authorized takes are by Level B harassment only, in the form of 
disruption of behavioral patterns for individual marine mammals 
resulting from exposure to acoustic transmissions. Based on the nature 
of the activity, Level A harassment is neither anticipated nor 
authorized.
    As described previously, no mortality is anticipated or authorized 
for this activity. Below we describe how the take is estimated.
    Generally speaking, we estimate take by considering: (1) Acoustic 
thresholds above which NMFS believes the best available science 
indicates marine mammals will be behaviorally harassed or incur some 
degree of permanent hearing impairment; (2) the area or volume of water 
that will be ensonified above these levels in a day; (3) the density or 
occurrence of marine mammals within these ensonified areas; and, (4) 
and the number of days of activities. We note that while these basic 
factors can contribute to a basic calculation to provide an initial 
prediction of takes, additional information that can qualitatively 
inform take estimates is also sometimes available (e.g., previous 
monitoring results or average group size). For this IHA, ONR employed a 
sophisticated model known as the Navy Acoustic Effects Model (NAEMO) 
for assessing the impacts of underwater sound. Below, we describe the 
factors considered here in more detail and present the authorized take.

Acoustic Thresholds

    Using the best available science, NMFS recommends the use of 
acoustic

[[Page 54934]]

thresholds that identify the received level of underwater sound above 
which exposed marine mammals would be reasonably expected to be 
behaviorally harassed (equated to Level B harassment) or to incur PTS 
of some degree (equated to Level A harassment).
    Level B Harassment for non-explosive sources--Though significantly 
driven by received level, the onset of behavioral disturbance from 
anthropogenic noise exposure is also informed to varying degrees by 
other factors related to the source (e.g., frequency, predictability, 
duty cycle), the environment (e.g., bathymetry), and the receiving 
animals (e.g., hearing, motivation, experience, demography, behavioral 
context) and can be difficult to predict (Southall et al., 2007, 
Ellison et al., 2012). Based on what the available science indicates 
and the practical need to use a threshold based on a factor that is 
both predictable and measurable for most activities, NMFS typically 
uses a generalized acoustic threshold based on received level to 
estimate the onset of behavioral harassment. NMFS typical generalized 
acoustic thresholds are received levels of 120 dB of 1 microPascal (re 
1 [mu]Pa; rms) for continuous (e.g., vibratory pile-driving, drilling) 
and above 160 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) for non-explosive impulsive (e.g., 
seismic airguns) or intermittent (e.g., scientific sonar) sources. In 
this case, NMFS has adopted the Navy's approach to estimating 
incidental take by Level B harassment from the active acoustic sources 
for this action, which includes use of the dose response functions 
described below.
    The Navy's dose response functions were developed to estimate take 
from sonar and similar transducers. Multi-year research efforts have 
conducted sonar exposure studies for odontocetes and mysticetes (Miller 
et al., 2012; Sivle et al., 2012). Several studies with captive animals 
have provided data under controlled circumstances for odontocetes and 
pinnipeds (Houser et al., 2013a; Houser et al., 2013b). Moretti et al., 
(2014) published a beaked whale dose-response curve based on passive 
acoustic monitoring of beaked whales during U.S. Navy training activity 
at Atlantic Underwater Test and Evaluation Center during actual Anti-
Submarine Warfare exercises. This new information necessitated the 
update of the behavioral response criteria for the U.S. Navy's 
environmental analyses.
    Southall et al., (2007), and more recently Southall et al., (2019), 
synthesized data from many past behavioral studies and observations to 
determine the likelihood of behavioral reactions at specific sound 
levels. While in general, the louder the sound source the more intense 
the behavioral response, it was clear that the proximity of a sound 
source and the animal's experience, motivation, and conditioning were 
also critical factors influencing the response (Southall et al., 2007; 
Southall et al., 2019). After examining all of the available data, the 
authors felt that the derivation of thresholds for behavioral response 
based solely on exposure level was not supported because context of the 
animal at the time of sound exposure was an important factor in 
estimating response. Nonetheless, in some conditions, consistent 
avoidance reactions were noted at higher sound levels depending on the 
marine mammal species or group allowing conclusions to be drawn. Phocid 
seals demonstrated avoidance reactions at or below 190 dB re 1 
[micro]Pa at 1m; thus, seals may actually receive levels adequate to 
produce TTS before avoiding the source.
    Odontocete behavioral criteria for non-impulsive sources were 
updated based on controlled exposure studies for dolphins and sea 
mammals, sonar, and safety (3S) studies where odontocete behavioral 
responses were reported after exposure to sonar (Antunes et al., 2014; 
Houser et al., 2013b); Miller et al., 2011; Miller et al., 2014; Miller 
et al., 2012). For the 3S study, the sonar outputs included 1-2 
kilohertz (kHz) up- and down-sweeps and 6-7 kHz up-sweeps; source 
levels were ramped up from 152-158 dB re 1 [micro]Pa to a maximum of 
198-214 re 1 [micro]Pa at 1 meter (m). Sonar signals were ramped up 
over several pings while the vessel approached the mammals. The study 
did include some control passes of ships with the sonar off to discern 
the behavioral responses of the mammals to vessel presence alone versus 
active sonar.
    The controlled exposure studies included exposing the Navy's 
trained bottlenose dolphins to mid-frequency sonar while they were in a 
pen. Mid-frequency sonar was played at 6 different exposure levels from 
125-185 dB re 1 [micro]Pa (rms). The behavioral response function for 
odontocetes resulting from the studies described above has a 50 percent 
probability of response at 157 dB re 1 [micro]Pa. Additionally, 
distance cutoffs (20 km for mid-frequency (MF) cetaceans) were applied 
to exclude exposures beyond which the potential of significant 
behavioral responses is considered to be unlikely.
    The pinniped behavioral threshold was updated based on controlled 
exposure experiments on the following captive animals: Hooded seal, 
gray seal (Halichoerus grypus), and California sea lion (G[ouml]tz et 
al., 2010; Houser et al., 2013a; Kvadsheim et al., 2010). Hooded seals 
were exposed to increasing levels of sonar until an avoidance response 
was observed, while the grey seals were exposed first to a single 
received level multiple times, then an increasing received level. Each 
individual California sea lion was exposed to the same received level 
ten times. These exposure sessions were combined into a single response 
value, with an overall response assumed if an animal responded in any 
single session. The resulting behavioral response function for 
pinnipeds has a 50 percent probability of response at 166 dB re 1 
[mu]Pa. Additionally, distance cutoffs (10 km for pinnipeds) were 
applied to exclude exposures beyond which the potential of significant 
behavioral responses is considered to be unlikely.
    Level A harassment for non-explosive sources--NMFS' Technical 
Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine 
Mammal Hearing (Version 2.0) (Technical Guidance, 2018) identifies dual 
criteria to assess auditory injury (Level A harassment) to five 
different marine mammal groups (based on hearing sensitivity) as a 
result of exposure to noise from two different types of sources 
(impulsive or non-impulsive). ONR's activities involve only non-
impulsive sources.
    These thresholds are provided in Table 3 below. The references, 
analysis, and methodology used in the development of the thresholds are 
described in NMFS 2018 Technical Guidance, which may be accessed at 
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/marine-mammal-acoustic-technical-guidance.

[[Page 54935]]



                     Table 3--Thresholds Identifying the Onset of Permanent Threshold Shift
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     PTS onset acoustic thresholds * (received level)
             Hearing group              ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  Impulsive                         Non-impulsive
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Low-Frequency (LF) Cetaceans...........  Cell 1: Lpk,flat: 219 dB;   Cell 2: LE,LF,24h: 199 dB.
                                          LE,LF,24h: 183 dB.
Mid-Frequency (MF) Cetaceans...........  Cell 3: Lpk,flat: 230 dB;   Cell 4: LE,MF,24h: 198 dB.
                                          LE,MF,24h: 185 dB.
High-Frequency (HF) Cetaceans..........  Cell 5: Lpk,flat: 202 dB;   Cell 6: LE,HF,24h: 173 dB.
                                          LE,HF,24h: 155 dB.
Phocid Pinnipeds (PW) (Underwater).....  Cell 7: Lpk,flat: 218 dB;   Cell 8: LE,PW,24h: 201 dB.
                                          LE,PW,24h: 185 dB.
Otariid Pinnipeds (OW) (Underwater)....  Cell 9: Lpk,flat: 232 dB;   Cell 10: LE,OW,24h: 219 dB.
                                          LE,OW,24h: 203 dB.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Dual metric acoustic thresholds for impulsive sounds: Use whichever results in the largest isopleth for
  calculating PTS onset. If a non-impulsive sound has the potential of exceeding the peak sound pressure level
  thresholds associated with impulsive sounds, these thresholds should also be considered.
Note: Peak sound pressure (Lpk) has a reference value of 1 [micro]Pa, and cumulative sound exposure level (LE)
  has a reference value of 1[micro]Pa2s. In this Table, thresholds are abbreviated to reflect American National
  Standards Institute standards (ANSI 2013). However, peak sound pressure is defined by ANSI as incorporating
  frequency weighting, which is not the intent for this Technical Guidance. Hence, the subscript ``flat'' is
  being included to indicate peak sound pressure should be flat weighted or unweighted within the generalized
  hearing range. The subscript associated with cumulative sound exposure level thresholds indicates the
  designated marine mammal auditory weighting function (LF, MF, and HF cetaceans, and PW and OW pinnipeds) and
  that the recommended accumulation period is 24 hours. The cumulative sound exposure level thresholds could be
  exceeded in a multitude of ways (i.e., varying exposure levels and durations, duty cycle). When possible, it
  is valuable for action proponents to indicate the conditions under which these acoustic thresholds will be
  exceeded.

Quantitative Modeling

    The Navy performed a quantitative analysis to estimate the number 
of marine mammals that could be exposed to underwater acoustic 
transmissions above the previously described threshold criteria during 
ONR's action. Inputs to the quantitative analysis included marine 
mammal density estimates obtained from the Navy Marine Species Density 
Database, marine mammal depth occurrence distributions (U.S. Department 
of the Navy, 2017b), oceanographic and environmental data, marine 
mammal hearing data, and criteria and thresholds for levels of 
potential effects. The quantitative analysis consists of computer 
modeled estimates and a post-model analysis to determine the number of 
potential animal exposures. The model calculates sound energy 
propagation from the non-impulsive acoustic sources, the sound received 
by animat (virtual animal) dosimeters representing marine mammals 
distributed in the area around the modeled activity, and whether the 
sound received by animats exceeds the thresholds for effects.
    The Navy developed a set of software tools and compiled data for 
estimating acoustic effects on marine mammals without consideration of 
behavioral avoidance or mitigation. These tools and data sets serve as 
integral components of NAEMO. In NAEMO, animats are distributed non-
uniformly based on species-specific density, depth distribution, and 
group size information and animats record energy received at their 
location in the water column. A fully three-dimensional environment is 
used for calculating sound propagation and animat exposure in NAEMO. 
Site-specific bathymetry, sound speed profiles, wind speed, and bottom 
properties are incorporated into the propagation modeling process. 
NAEMO calculates the likely propagation for various levels of energy 
(sound or pressure) resulting from each source used during the training 
event.
    NAEMO then records the energy received by each animat within the 
energy footprint of the event and calculates the number of animats 
having received levels of energy exposures that fall within defined 
impact thresholds. Predicted effects on the animats within a scenario 
are then tallied and the highest order effect (based on severity of 
criteria; e.g., PTS over TTS) predicted for a given animat is assumed. 
Each scenario, or each 24-hour period for scenarios lasting greater 
than 24 hours is independent of all others, and therefore, the same 
individual marine mammal (as represented by an animat in the model 
environment) could be impacted during each independent scenario or 24-
hour period. In few instances, although the activities themselves all 
occur within the study location, sound may propagate beyond the 
boundary of the study area. Any exposures occurring outside the 
boundary of the study area are counted as if they occurred within the 
study area boundary. NAEMO provides the initial estimated impacts on 
marine species with a static horizontal distribution (i.e., animats in 
the model environment do not move horizontally).
    There are limitations to the data used in the acoustic effects 
model, and the results must be interpreted within this context. While 
the best available data and appropriate input assumptions have been 
used in the modeling, when there is a lack of definitive data to 
support an aspect of the modeling, conservative modeling assumptions 
have been chosen (i.e., assumptions that may result in an overestimate 
of acoustic exposures):
     Animats are modeled as being underwater, stationary, and 
facing the source and therefore always predicted to receive the maximum 
potential sound level at a given location (i.e., no porpoising or 
pinnipeds' heads above water);
     Animats do not move horizontally (but change their 
position vertically within the water column), which may overestimate 
physiological effects such as hearing loss, especially for slow moving 
or stationary sound sources in the model;
     Animats are stationary horizontally and therefore do not 
avoid the sound source, unlike in the wild where animals would most 
often avoid exposures at higher sound levels, especially those 
exposures that may result in PTS;
     Multiple exposures within any 24-hour period are 
considered one continuous exposure for the purposes of calculating 
potential threshold shift, because there are not sufficient data to 
estimate a hearing recovery function for the time between exposures; 
and
     Mitigation measures were not considered in the model. In 
reality, sound-producing activities would be reduced, stopped, or 
delayed if marine mammals are detected by visual monitoring.
    Because of these inherent model limitations and simplifications, 
model-estimated results should be further analyzed, considering such 
factors as the range to specific effects, avoidance, and the likelihood 
of successfully implementing mitigation measures. This analysis uses a 
number of factors in addition to the acoustic model results to

[[Page 54936]]

predict acoustic effects on marine mammals.
    For the other non-impulsive sources, NAEMO calculates the SPL and 
SEL for each active emission during an event. This is done by taking 
the following factors into account over the propagation paths: 
Bathymetric relief and bottom types, sound speed, and attenuation 
contributors such as absorption, bottom loss, and surface loss. 
Platforms such as a ship using one or more sound sources are modeled in 
accordance with relevant vehicle dynamics and time durations by moving 
them across an area whose size is representative of the testing event's 
operational area.
    Table 4 provides range to effects for noise produced through use of 
the acoustic sources to mid-frequency cetacean and pinniped-specific 
criteria. Range to effects is important information in predicting non-
impulsive acoustic impacts. Therefore, the ranges in Table 4 provide 
realistic maximum distances over which the specific effects from the 
use of non-impulsive sources during ONR's action will be possible.

           Table 4--Range to PTS, TTS, and Behavioral Effects in the Project Area Based on Cutoff Distances for Non-Impulsive Acoustic Sources
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            Range to behavioral effects    Range to TTS effects (meters)   Range to PTS effects (meters)
                                                                     (meters)                            c                               c
                       Source type                       -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            MF cetacean      Pinniped       MF cetacean      Pinniped       MF cetacean      Pinniped
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
On-site drifting sources b..............................        a 10,000        a 10,000               0               0               0               0
Fixed sources...........................................        a 20,000         a 5,000               0               0               0               0
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
a Cutoff distance applied (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2017a).
b Assessed under the assumption that some of the on-site drifting sources would become closer together.
c No effect (and therefore, no distance from source) is anticipated based on the NAEMO modeling.

    A behavioral response study conducted on and around the Navy range 
in Southern California (SOCAL BRS) observed reactions to sonar and 
similar sound sources by several marine mammal species, including 
Risso's dolphins (Grampus griseus), a mid-frequency cetacean (DeRuiter 
et al., 2013; Goldbogen et al., 2013; Southall et al., 2011; Southall 
et al., 2012; Southall et al., 2013). In a preliminary analysis, none 
of the Risso's dolphins exposed to simulated or real mid-frequency 
sonar demonstrated any overt or obvious responses (Southall et al., 
2012, Southall et al., 2013). In general, although the responses to the 
simulated sonar were varied across individuals and species, none of the 
animals exposed to real Navy sonar responded; these exposures occurred 
at distances beyond 10 km, and were up to 100 km away (DeRuiter et al., 
2013). These data suggest that most odontocetes (not including beaked 
whales (Family Ziphiidae) and harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena)) 
likely do not exhibit significant behavioral reactions to sonar and 
other transducers beyond approximately 10 km. Therefore, the Navy uses 
a cutoff distance for odontocetes of 10 km for moderate source level, 
single platform training, and testing events, and 20 km for all other 
events, including ONR's action (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2017a). 
NMFS has adopted this approach in support of this final IHA.
    Southall et al., (2007) reported that pinnipeds do not exhibit 
strong reactions to SPLs up to 140 dB re 1 [micro]Pa from non-impulsive 
sources. While there are limited data on pinniped behavioral responses 
beyond about 3 km in the water, the Navy used a distance cutoff of 2.7 
nm (5 km) for moderate source level, single platform training and 
testing events, and 5.4 nm (10 km) for all other events, including the 
Arctic Research Activities (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2017a).
    Regardless of the received level at the cutoff distances described 
above, take is not estimated to occur beyond 10 and 20 km from the 
source for pinnipeds and cetaceans, respectively. No instances of PTS 
were modeled for any species or stock; as such, no take by Level A 
harassment is anticipated or is authorized. Further information on 
cutoff distances can be found in Section 6.5.1 in ONR's 2021-2022 IHA 
application on NMFS' website: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-military-readiness-activities.
    The marine mammal density numbers utilized for quantitative 
modeling are from the Navy Marine Species Density Database (U.S. 
Department of the Navy, 2014). Density estimates are based on habitat-
based modeling by Kaschner et al., (2006) and Kaschner (2004). While 
density estimates for the two stocks of beluga whales are equal 
(Kaschner et al., 2006; Kaschner 2004), take has been apportioned to 
each stock proportional to the abundance of each stock. Table 5 shows 
the exposures expected for the beluga whale and ringed seal based on 
NAEMO modeled results.

                          Table 5--Quantitative Modeling Results of Potential Exposures
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                      Density         Level B         Level B                      Percentage of
             Species                 (animals/      harassment      harassment      Total take      stock taken
                                      km\2\)       (behavioral)        (TTS)                            \1\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Cetacean (odontocete)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Beluga Whale (Beaufort Sea                0.0087             375               0             375            0.96
 stock) \1\.....................
Beluga Whale (Chukchi Sea stock)  ..............             125               0             125            0.94
 \1\............................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 54937]]

 
                                                Pinniped (phocid)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ringed Seal.....................          0.3958           6,050               0           6,050            3.53
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Acoustic exposures to beluga whales were not modeled at the stock level. Take of beluga whales in each stock
  was based on the proportion of each stock in relation to the total number of beluga whales. Therefore, 75
  percent of the calculated take was apportioned to the Beaufort Sea stock, and 25 percent of the calculated
  take was apportioned to the Eastern Chukchi Sea stock.

Mitigation

    In order to issue an IHA under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, 
NMFS must set forth the permissible methods of taking pursuant to the 
activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on 
the species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to 
rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on 
the availability of the species or stock for taking for certain 
subsistence uses. NMFS regulations require applicants for incidental 
take authorizations to include information about the availability and 
feasibility (economic and technological) of equipment, methods, and 
manner of conducting the activity or other means of effecting the least 
practicable adverse impact upon the affected species or stocks and 
their habitat (50 CFR 216.104(a)(11)). The NDAA for FY 2004 amended the 
MMPA as it relates to military readiness activities and the incidental 
take authorization process such that ``least practicable impact'' shall 
include consideration of personnel safety, practicality of 
implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the military 
readiness activity.
    In evaluating how mitigation may or may not be appropriate to 
ensure the least practicable adverse impact on species or stocks and 
their habitat, as well as subsistence uses where applicable, we 
carefully consider two primary factors:
    (1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful 
implementation of the measure(s) is expected to reduce impacts to 
marine mammals, marine mammal species or stocks, and their habitat, as 
well as subsistence uses. This considers the nature of the potential 
adverse impact being mitigated (likelihood, scope, range). It further 
considers the likelihood that the measure will be effective if 
implemented (probability of accomplishing the mitigating result if 
implemented as planned), the likelihood of effective implementation 
(probability implemented as planned), and;
    (2) The practicability of the measures for applicant 
implementation, which may consider such things as cost, impact on 
operations, and, in the case of a military readiness activity, 
personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the 
effectiveness of the military readiness activity.

Mitigation for Marine Mammals and Their Habitat

    Ships operated by or for the Navy have personnel assigned to stand 
watch at all times, day and night, when moving through the water. While 
in transit, ships must use extreme caution and proceed at a safe speed 
(1-3 knots in ice; <10 knots in open ice-free waters) such that the 
ship can take proper and effective action to avoid a collision with any 
marine mammal and can be stopped within a distance appropriate to the 
prevailing circumstances and conditions.
    While underway, the ships (including non-Navy ships operating on 
behalf of the Navy) utilizing active acoustics and towed in-water 
devices will have at least one watch person during activities. While 
underway, watch personnel must be alert at all times and have access to 
binoculars.
    During mooring or UUV deployment, visual observation will start 15 
minutes prior to and continue throughout the deployment within an 
exclusion zone of 180 feet (ft; 55 m, roughly one ship length) around 
the deployed mooring. Deployment will stop if a marine mammal is 
visually detected within the exclusion zone. Deployment will re-
commence if any one of the following conditions are met: (1) The animal 
is observed exiting the exclusion zone, (2) the animal is thought to 
have exited the exclusion zone based on its course and speed, or (3) 
the exclusion zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a 
period of 15 minutes for pinnipeds and 30 minutes for cetaceans.
    Ships will avoid approaching marine mammals head-on and will 
maneuver to maintain an exclusion zone of 500 yards (yd; 457 m) around 
observed whales, and 200 ft (183 m) around all other marine mammals, 
provided it is safe to do so in ice-free waters.
    All personnel conducting on-ice experiments, as well as all 
aircraft operating in the study area, are required to maintain a 
separation distance of 1,000 ft (305 m) from any observed marine 
mammal.
    These requirements do not apply if a vessel's safety is at risk, 
such as when a change of course would create an imminent and serious 
threat to safety, person, vessel, or aircraft, and to the extent that 
vessels are restricted in their ability to maneuver. No further action 
is necessary if a marine mammal other than a whale continues to 
approach the vessel after there has already been one maneuver and/or 
speed change to avoid the animal. Avoidance measures should continue 
for any observed whale in order to maintain an exclusion zone of 500 yd 
(457 m).
    Based on our evaluation of the Navy's measures, NMFS has determined 
that the mitigation measures provide the means effecting the least 
practicable impact on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, 
paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of 
similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock 
for subsistence uses.

Monitoring and Reporting

    In order to issue an IHA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth requirements pertaining to the 
monitoring and reporting of such taking. The MMPA implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR 216.104 (a)(13) indicate that requests for 
authorizations must include the suggested means of accomplishing the 
necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased 
knowledge of the species and of the level of taking or impacts on 
populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present in the 
action area. Effective reporting is critical, both to compliance as 
well as to ensure that the most value is obtained from the required 
monitoring.
    Monitoring and reporting requirements prescribed by NMFS

[[Page 54938]]

should contribute to improved understanding of one or more of the 
following:
     Occurrence of marine mammal species or stocks in the area 
in which take is anticipated (e.g., presence, abundance, distribution, 
density).
     Nature, scope, or context of likely marine mammal exposure 
to potential stressors/impacts (individual or cumulative, acute or 
chronic), through better understanding of: (1) Action or environment 
(e.g., source characterization, propagation, ambient noise); (2) 
affected species (e.g., life history, dive patterns); (3) co-occurrence 
of marine mammal species with the action; or (4) biological or 
behavioral context of exposure (e.g., age, calving or feeding areas).
     Individual marine mammal responses (behavioral or 
physiological) to acoustic stressors (acute, chronic, or cumulative), 
other stressors, or cumulative impacts from multiple stressors.
     How anticipated responses to stressors impact either: (1) 
Long-term fitness and survival of individual marine mammals; or (2) 
populations, species, or stocks.
     Effects on marine mammal habitat (e.g., marine mammal prey 
species, acoustic habitat, or other important physical components of 
marine mammal habitat).
     Mitigation and monitoring effectiveness.
    While underway, the ships (including non-Navy ships operating on 
behalf of the Navy) utilizing active acoustics will have at least one 
watch person during activities. Watch personnel undertake extensive 
training in accordance with the U.S. Navy Lookout Training Handbook or 
civilian equivalent, including on the job instruction and a formal 
Personal Qualification Standard program (or equivalent program for 
supporting contractors or civilians), to certify that they have 
demonstrated all necessary skills (such as detection and reporting of 
floating or partially submerged objects). Additionally, watch personnel 
have taken the Navy's Marine Species Awareness Training. Their duties 
may be performed in conjunction with other job responsibilities, such 
as navigating the ship or supervising other personnel. While on watch, 
personnel employ visual search techniques, including the use of 
binoculars, using a scanning method in accordance with the U.S. Navy 
Lookout Training Handbook or civilian equivalent. A primary duty of 
watch personnel is to detect and report all objects and disturbances 
sighted in the water that may be indicative of a threat to the ship and 
its crew, such as debris, or surface disturbance. Per safety 
requirements, watch personnel also report any marine mammals sighted 
that have the potential to be in the direct path of the ship as a 
standard collision avoidance procedure.
    The U.S. Navy has coordinated with NMFS to develop an overarching 
program plan in which specific monitoring will occur. This plan is 
called the Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Program (ICMP) (U.S. 
Department of the Navy, 2011). The ICMP has been developed in direct 
response to Navy permitting requirements established through various 
environmental compliance efforts. As a framework document, the ICMP 
applies by regulation to those activities on ranges and operating areas 
for which the Navy is seeking or has sought incidental take 
authorizations. The ICMP is intended to coordinate monitoring efforts 
across all regions and to allocate the most appropriate level and type 
of effort based on a set of standardized research goals, and in 
acknowledgement of regional scientific value and resource availability.
    The ICMP is focused on Navy training and testing ranges where the 
majority of Navy activities occur regularly as those areas have the 
greatest potential for being impacted. ONR's Arctic Research Activities 
in comparison is a less intensive test with little human activity 
present in the Arctic. Human presence is limited to a minimal amount of 
days for source operations and source deployments, in contrast to the 
large majority (greater than 95 percent) of time that the sources will 
be left behind and operate autonomously. Therefore, a dedicated 
monitoring project is not warranted. However, ONR will record all 
observations of marine mammals, including the marine mammal's location 
(latitude and longitude), behavior, and distance from project 
activities.
    The Navy is committed to documenting and reporting relevant aspects 
of research and testing activities to verify implementation of 
mitigation, comply with permits, and improve future environmental 
assessments. If any injury or death of a marine mammal is observed 
during the 2021-2022 Arctic Research Activities, the Navy will 
immediately halt the activity and report the incident to the Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, and the Alaska Regional Stranding 
Coordinator, NMFS. The following information must be provided:
     Time, date, and location of the discovery;
     Species identification (if known) or description of the 
animal(s) involved;
     Condition of the animal(s) (including carcass condition if 
the animal is dead);
     Observed behaviors of the animal(s), if alive;
     If available, photographs or video footage of the 
animal(s); and
     General circumstances under which the animal(s) was 
discovered (e.g., deployment of moored or drifting sources, during on-
ice experiments, or by transiting vessel).
    ONR will provide NMFS with a draft exercise monitoring report 
within 90 days of the conclusion of the activity. The draft exercise 
monitoring report will include data regarding acoustic source use and 
any mammal sightings or detection will be documented. The report will 
include the estimated number of marine mammals taken during the 
activity. The report will also include information on the number of 
shutdowns recorded. If no comments are received from NMFS within 30 
days of submission of the draft final report, the draft final report 
will constitute the final report. If comments are received, a final 
report must be submitted within 30 days after receipt of comments.

Negligible Impact Analysis and Determination

    NMFS has defined negligible impact as an impact resulting from the 
specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not 
reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (50 CFR 216.103). A 
negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population-
level effects). An estimate of the number of takes alone is not enough 
information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to 
considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be 
``taken'' through harassment, NMFS considers other factors, such as the 
likely nature of any responses (e.g., intensity, duration), the context 
of any responses (e.g., critical reproductive time or location, 
migration), as well as effects on habitat, and the likely effectiveness 
of the mitigation. We also assess the number, intensity, and context of 
estimated takes by evaluating this information relative to population 
status. Consistent with the 1989 preamble for NMFS's implementing 
regulations (54 FR 40338; September 29, 1989), the impacts from other 
past and ongoing anthropogenic activities are incorporated into this 
analysis via their impacts on the environmental baseline (e.g., as 
reflected in the regulatory status

[[Page 54939]]

of the species, population size and growth rate where known, ongoing 
sources of human-caused mortality, or ambient noise levels).
    Underwater acoustic transmissions associated with the Arctic 
Research Activities, as outlined previously, have the potential to 
result in Level B harassment of beluga seals and ringed seals in the 
form of behavioral disturbances. No serious injury, mortality, or Level 
A harassment are anticipated to result from these described activities.
    Effects on individuals that are taken by Level B harassment could 
include alteration of dive behavior, alteration of foraging behavior, 
effects to breathing rates, interference with or alteration of 
vocalization, avoidance, and flight. More severe behavioral responses 
are not anticipated due to the localized, intermittent use of active 
acoustic sources. Most likely, individuals will simply be temporarily 
displaced by moving away from the acoustic source. As described 
previously in the behavioral effects section, seals exposed to non-
impulsive sources with a received sound pressure level within the range 
of calculated exposures (142-193 dB re 1 [mu]Pa), have been shown to 
change their behavior by modifying diving activity and avoidance of the 
sound source (G[ouml]tz et al., 2010; Kvadsheim et al., 2010). Although 
a minor change to a behavior may occur as a result of exposure to the 
sound sources associated with ONR's action, these changes will be 
within the normal range of behaviors for the animal (e.g., the use of a 
breathing hole further from the source, rather than one closer to the 
source, will be within the normal range of behavior). Thus, even 
repeated Level B harassment of some small subset of the overall stock 
is unlikely to result in any significant realized decrease in fitness 
for the affected individuals, and will not result in any adverse impact 
to the stock as a whole.
    The project is not expected to have significant adverse effects on 
marine mammal habitat. While the activities may cause some fish to 
leave the area of disturbance, temporarily impacting marine mammals' 
foraging opportunities, this will encompass a relatively small area of 
habitat leaving large areas of existing fish and marine mammal foraging 
habitat unaffected. As such, the impacts to marine mammal habitat are 
not expected to cause significant or long-term negative consequences
    In summary and as described above, the following factors primarily 
support our determination that the impacts resulting from this activity 
are not expected to adversely affect the species or stock through 
effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival:
     No injury, serious injury, or mortality is anticipated or 
authorized;
     Impacts will be limited to Level B harassment only;
     TTS is not expected or predicted to occur; only temporary 
behavioral modifications are expected to result from these activities; 
and
     There will be no permanent or significant loss or 
modification of marine mammal prey or habitat.
    Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the 
specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into 
consideration the implementation of the monitoring and mitigation 
measures, NMFS finds that the total marine mammal take from these 
activities will have a negligible impact on all affected marine mammal 
species or stocks.

Unmitigable Adverse Impact Analysis and Determination

    Impacts to subsistence uses of marine mammals resulting from the 
planned action are not anticipated (as described in greater detail in 
the proposed notice of the IHA (86 FR 47065; August 23, 2021)). The 
closest active acoustic source (fixed or drifting) within the project 
site that is likely to cause Level B harassment take is approximately 
110 nm (204 km) from land and outside of known subsistence use areas. 
However, almost all leave-behind sources that will constitute most of 
the Level B harassment take will be approximately 240 mi (386 km) from 
shore. In comparison with IHAs issued to ONR for their previous Arctic 
Research Activities, this project is further north; therefore, there is 
no spatial overlap between known subsistence harvest sites and the 
activities contained herein. Furthermore, and as stated above, the 
range to effects for non-impulsive acoustic sources in this experiment 
is much smaller than the distance from shore, with acoustic sources 
that could constitute take being located far away from known 
subsistence hunting areas. Lastly, the action will not remove 
individuals from the population.
    Based on this information, NMFS has determined that there will be 
no unmitigable adverse impact on subsistence uses from ONR's planned 
activities.

Endangered Species Act

    Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.) requires that each Federal agency insure that any action 
it authorizes, funds, or carries out is not likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or result 
in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical 
habitat. To ensure ESA compliance for the issuance of IHAs, NMFS 
consults internally, in this case with the NMFS Alaska Regional Office 
(AKR), whenever we propose to authorize take for endangered or 
threatened species.
    The AKR issued a Biological Opinion on September 29, 2021, which 
concluded that ONR's Arctic Research Activities and NMFS's issuance of 
an IHA for those activities are not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of the Arctic ringed seal or adversely modify any designated 
critical habitat.

National Environmental Policy Act

    In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 
1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), as implemented by the regulations 
published by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ; 40 CFR parts 
1500-1508), ONR prepared an Supplemental Overseas Environmental 
Assessment (SOEA) to consider the direct, indirect, and cumulative 
effects to the human environment resulting from the Arctic Research 
Activities. NMFS made ONR's SOEA available to the public for review and 
comment, concurrently with the publication of the proposed IHA (86 FR 
47065; August 23, 2021), on the NMFS website (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/incidental-take-authorization-office-naval-research-arctic-research-activities-beaufort-1), in relation to 
its suitability for adoption by NMFS in order to assess the impacts to 
the human environment of issuance of an IHA to ONR. In addition, in 
compliance with NEPA and the CEQ regulations, as well as NOAA 
Administrative Order 216-6, NMFS has reviewed ONR's SOEA and determined 
it to be sufficient. NMFS has subsequently adopted that EA (SOEA) and 
signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on September 23, 
2021.

Authorization

    As a result of these determinations, NMFS has issued an IHA to ONR 
for conducting oceanographic research activities in the Beaufort and 
eastern Chukchi Seas from October 5, 2021 through October 4, 2022, 
provided the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements are incorporated.


[[Page 54940]]


    Dated: September 30, 2021.
Kimberly Damon-Randall,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2021-21672 Filed 10-4-21; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P